FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — A look at what’s happening around the New York Jets:
1. Will trend continue? The Jets don’t have to be as iconic as the ’85 Bears defense to make a long playoff run. Recent history (specifically, Aaron Rodgers‘ history) tells us he can get his team to a high seed with “only” a top-10 defense.
In 15 seasons as the Green Bay Packers‘ starter, Rodgers was blessed with a top-10 defense (yards allowed) only four times. Their records in those seasons (all playoff years): 11-5, 10-6, 13-3 and 13-4.
He’s had only two top-5 defenses, and the last time that happened in 2010 resulted in a Super Bowl championship. You can see where this is going. The Jets, ranked No. 4 last season, have the potential to duplicate or improve that standing, which bodes well.
One of the benefits of a strong defense is that the quarterback, knowing he doesn’t have to light up the scoreboard, can manage the game a certain way. Right?
“I’ve never liked a sentence that has a ‘manage’ and ‘game’ in the same sentence,” said Rodgers, who, like most quarterbacks, doesn’t appreciate the “game manager” inference.
Clearly, Rodgers, who has 475 touchdown passes, isn’t a game manager. That said, it’s important to play complementary football.
“I feel like, as a quarterback, you’re there to make plays,” Rodgers said. “Sometimes the play is to check it down and to be smart, but you’ve got to be opportunistic. When you’ve got a great defense, which I feel like we do, I think you just have to play how you’ve always played. Be smart. You can take some chances when they’re there, but it’s all about a percentage game and trying to find the highest percentage matchup every single time.”
Rodgers said he’s counting on the defense to help out the offense by providing some short fields. Linebacker C.J. Mosley is all for that. All he wants is to get the ball back to Rodgers, so he can sit back and watch the four-time MVP do his thing.
“It gives us more reason to get off the field,” Mosley said, smiling. “That way, we can put him on the field.”
2. Talking defense with Rex: Reed’s comment about the ’85 Bears triggered a thought: Why not check in with former Jets coach Rex Ryan, whose father, Buddy, was the architect of that legendary Chicago defense?
Ryan, now an ESPN analyst, believes the ’85 Bears and the 2000 Baltimore Ravens (he was on that staff) are the two greatest defenses in history. Could the Jets be that good, as Reed suggested?
“From a talent standpoint, they’re outstanding, no question about it,” Ryan told ESPN. “But are they going to be like those defenses? I don’t think so. Those really are historic.”
Basically, he said those defenses are untouchable, but he believes the Jets will lead the league in defense. He also said — and this is surprising — the current Jets have more talent than his ’09 unit, which finished No. 1 by a wide margin.
“We were great,” Ryan said, “but we never had this kind of talent.”
The biggest difference between ’09 and ’23, he said, is the pass-rushing depth on the current roster.
3. Mr. Monday Night: The Jets open against the Buffalo Bills on “Monday Night Football” (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN/ABC/ESPN+). Rodgers should love this. After all, he has won his past nine starts on MNF, tied for the third-longest streak in history. He trails only Ken Stabler (11) and Steve Young (10).
4. Prime-time woes: Maybe Rodgers can change the Jets’ mojo because — let’s be honest — they’ve been a terrible team in prime time. We’re talking about eight straight losses, including three straight on Monday night.
They must learn how to win under the lights or else their season will be toast. They have five prime-time games, plus a standalone game on Black Friday.
5. Team effort: A breakdown of how the Jets will divide the coaching responsibilities on offense:
Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, positioned on the sideline, is the playcaller. He’s the voice in Rodgers’ ear. Todd Downing and Keith Carter are in charge of the passing and running games, respectively. Zach Azzanni handles the two-minute offense. Taylor Embree and Ron Middleton are responsible for short-yardage/goal line. Rob Calabrese has the red zone.
Hackett, in his words, “meshes it all together.”
6. The Gase Nine: The locker room has undergone a “remarkable” transformation since 2020, according to center Connor McGovern.
“They’ve done a really good job of getting rid of the bad apples,” he said.
McGovern didn’t name names, of course, but they’ve rid themselves of a lot of players — not just bad apples. McGovern is one of only nine holdovers from 2020, Adam Gase’s final season as coach. Maybe they should be called survivors.
7. What losing streak? Rodgers’ impact on the organization has been so profound that no one has talked about the team’s epic collapse at the end of last season — a six-game losing streak that cost them a playoff spot. It didn’t come up at all in coach Robert Saleh’s training camp news conferences. Under ordinary circumstances, it would’ve been a theme throughout camp: Can the Jets vanquish the ghosts of ’22?
Rodgers’ big presence, combined with Saleh’s aggressive tone-setting (portrayed mainly on “Hard Knocks”), has shifted the narrative to playoff runs and Super Bowl possibilities. It seems incongruous to have a team that finished 7-10 with a target on its back, but that’s precisely the case.
8. Cook Bowl II: Dalvin Cook and James Cook — brothers and running backs — will meet up for the second time as pros. Dalvin was the big winner in Cook Bowl I, as his Minnesota Vikings defeated the Bills 33-30 on Nov. 13, 2022. Dalvin rushed for a season-high 119 yards; James was held to 22 yards.
“It’s going to be something we remember,” said Dalvin, 28, who talks to James, 23, every day. “That’s what I always tell him: Enjoy it. Fifteen years from now, it’ll be something we talk about when we’re just chilling, just vibing.”
Dalvin has practiced only a handful of times since his late signing, but the feeling around the team is that he will get the majority of the carries in Week 1. Breece Hall will play, but the plan is to be judicious with his carries. He’s 11 months removed from ACL surgery on his left knee.
9. Heartfelt letter: Rodgers received a handwritten note from Bart Starr’s widow, Cherry Starr, who has continued Bart’s tradition of writing good luck letters to all 32 starting quarterbacks. Rodgers became friends with the Packers’ legend and his wife during his years in Green Bay. At the bottom of her typewritten letter to Rodgers, supplied by the marketing firm that represents the family’s charitable foundation, Cherry added a handwritten postscript. It reads:
“I am going to miss you, Aaron. Bart loved you so much and so do I. I will always treasure our special friendship. Wishing you much success in the coming season. Thank you for all the thrills you gave us!! Cherry”
10. The last word: “The 80’s Niners were hated. The 90’s Cowboys were hated. Everyone has hated the Patriots over the last 15 years. When I was in San Francisco, we hated the Rams. Well, it’s because they win.” – Saleh on how succeed breeds hatred in the NFL